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China’s HarmonyOS: Pioneering a New Era of Software Independence



In a modest room brimming with technological innovations—drones, bipedal robots, and even a supermarket checkout system—a vision of China’s software future is unfolding. At the heart of this transformation is HarmonyOS, an operating system developed by Huawei, set to challenge the dominance of Windows and Android in China.

The Emergence of HarmonyOS

The Harmony Ecosystem Innovation Centre in Shenzhen, a government-owned entity, is at the forefront of this revolution. It encourages the development of software using OpenHarmony, an open-source version of the operating system Huawei launched five years ago. This initiative followed U.S. sanctions that severed Huawei’s access to Google’s Android.

While Huawei’s recent smartphone launches have garnered attention for advancements in China’s chip supply chain, the company has been quietly building expertise in areas critical to Beijing’s vision of technology self-sufficiency. OpenHarmony is being championed as a “national operating system” amid growing concerns that other major companies could face similar restrictions to Huawei.

A Strategic Push for Self-Sufficiency

President Xi Jinping has emphasized the urgent need to localize operating systems and other technologies as the U.S. tightens export controls on advanced chips and components. This directive has accelerated the promotion of OpenHarmony within China, potentially reducing the market share of Western operating systems like Android and Windows.

In the first quarter of 2024, Huawei’s HarmonyOS surpassed Apple’s iOS to become the second best-selling mobile operating system in China, behind Android, according to research firm Counterpoint. Though HarmonyOS has not been launched on smartphones outside China, its domestic success signals a significant shift in the market.


The Role of the OpenAtom Foundation

Huawei gifted OpenHarmony’s source code to the OpenAtom Foundation in 2020 and 2021, aiming to foster broader adoption. Despite this, government documents and the innovation center often refer to OpenHarmony and HarmonyOS interchangeably, reflecting their intertwined roles in the Harmony ecosystem. Analysts predict that the growth of HarmonyOS, expected to roll out in a PC version soon, will boost OpenHarmony adoption.

Richard Yu, chairman of Huawei’s consumer business group, highlighted HarmonyOS’s foundational role in the future of China’s devices at a recent developer conference. Huawei’s strategy aims to build a robust, self-sufficient technological infrastructure within China, reducing reliance on Western technologies.

From Smartphones to Smart Devices

Initially built on an open-source Android system, Huawei launched its first “pure” version of HarmonyOS this year, which no longer supports Android-based apps. This move further separates China’s app ecosystem from the global standard. OpenHarmony has become the fastest-growing open-source operating system for smart devices, with contributions from over 70 organizations and applications across finance, education, aerospace, and industry.

The open-source model aims to replicate Android’s success by removing licensing costs and providing companies with a customizable platform for their products. Charlie Cheng, deputy manager of the Harmony Ecosystem Innovation Centre, envisions Harmony becoming a mainstream operating system, offering a viable alternative to iOS and Android.

Strong Local and National Support

Shenzhen, Huawei’s home city, has been a significant supporter of the Harmony ecosystem, serving as a testing ground for policies that may be adopted nationwide. Additional Harmony centers are planned across China, indicating robust governmental and organizational backing.


Key developers of OpenHarmony include Shenzhen Kaihong Digital and Chinasoft, which have worked on various infrastructure software projects. While OpenHarmony remains largely China-focused, the Brussels-based Eclipse Foundation is developing Oniro, an OpenHarmony-based system for mobile phones and IoT devices.

The Road Ahead

Huawei’s growing smartphone market share and the development of a broader ecosystem give Harmony an edge over previous Chinese open-source projects. With over 900 million devices running HarmonyOS and 2.4 million developers engaged in the ecosystem, Harmony is well-positioned for growth.

Emma Xu, an analyst with research firm Canalys, believes that while OpenHarmony will need more time to gain widespread developer confidence, the achievements of HarmonyOS will have a positive impact on its adoption.


China’s push for technology self-sufficiency is gaining momentum, with HarmonyOS and OpenHarmony at the center of this shift. As the ecosystem expands and matures, it promises to redefine China’s software landscape, offering a robust alternative to Western operating systems and paving the way for a new era of technological independence.

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